Tuesday, October 30, 2007

My Conversation With Matt Haas

For 11 years--Matt Haas has worked for Clark Construction in various capacities. Today--he is in charge of the biggest project of his Professional Career. As Project Executive--Matt, along with Clark Construction Vice President Ronnie Strompf (who has twice been interviewed on Nats320), are personally in charge of completing the $611 Million Dollar New Nationals Ballpark on South Capitol Street. A 23 Month Project--that everyone involved will state--WITHOUT A DOUBT--is one of most challenging construction jobs--based on time, budget and political restraints--both will most likely ever be involved.

Now, with November upon us--The Home Stretch of this most difficult of tasks is at hand. This very week, the construction site moved from a 12 Hour Work Day to an 18 Hour Work Day (6AM to 12 Midnight). All because, just a short five months from now--Our Washington Nationals are scheduled to play their very first game at New Nationals Park. As noted yesterday--The African Queen and I were provided the opportunity to update The Nats320 ongoing Photo Essay of The New Stadium. At the same--thanks to Chrystal Stowe from Smoot Construction, Matt Haas was kind enough to meet with us, to discuss progress on the ballpark. This chat will be a two parter. First up--the overall construction and timing of the project.

Sohna, Matt and I met at Clark's Construction Office--Official Address--24 Potomac Avenue, SE. This site is what will eventually become The Retail Space--running alongside the first base side--attached to New Nationals Park--as part of the long range planned Boulevard of The Ballpark District. The time was 1PM, Friday--October 26th, 2007.

With that--lets begin My Conversation with Matt Haas.

Here we go.

As far as construction is right now—how far along is the process? (SBF)

“If you do it in terms of time, this is a 23 month project, and we have five months left until Opening Day--then I would say we are 75% complete.”

What issues might still be standing in the way of not meeting that goal? (SBF)

“There are no foreseeable issues. Obviously, something could come up as in any construction project. But, right now, we have a pretty clear vision and path to get to the end.”

Is there any margin for error, right now? (SBF)

“No, not much. Not much—no. Never was and never will be (smiling-both of us laughing). This will be a race to the very end.”

Some little thing could go wrong and you would be all right. But, if anything major happens—it could be a problem? (SBF)

“Yeah, we are prepared for the little things. Little things come up every single day—literally. But, no—if something major came up—it would be an issue.”

What would be a major issue that might come up? (SBF)

“Anything catastrophic, we don’t even think about that stuff—any type of natural disaster. But, some of the lower tier things would include labor shortages, material deliveries, and real harsh weather. Those would be things, some of which we would be in a position to overcome. If it got to a point where it became a major issue—we would have to do something to overcome the problem. Yes, it could jeopardize getting it (The Stadium) done, but we would find a way around it. That, I am confident.”

Is major construction out of the way right now? Are you just filling in the pieces? (SBF)

“No, there is still a lot of major work construction to do. When you look around the stadium—it appears the major construction is done because the structure is there. We are still finishing up things like concrete; the field will go in, in about another week—the actual turf. But, the major things that you don’t see and the average person doesn’t see, is the thousands and thousands of miles of cabling that is throughout the service level, which runs up to the scoreboard control room and then goes down to the scoreboard. And, all the different telecom closets throughout the facility, the electrical drops and rooms. That’s the real guts of this project—the electrical. Some people don’t call that major construction, but it really is. Our biggest challenge is getting all the systems up and running.”

“So, when that fan comes in here on that first day, and wants to get a beer--the beer system and beer conduit down to all the cooler rooms work. Or, if a fan wants to watch replays on the scoreboard—a flip of the switch—and it will work. Those are the major things that still need to be finished.”

There were some conversations online concerning that Press Box Camera now looking down from on top of the stadium—which is quite cool—and eerie at night (Matt—yes, it is—I know what you are talking about). But, some have commented that, from their eye, looking at that picture—it does not appear to them there is anyway the ballpark can be completed on time. While others, seeing the same picture—see no way you cannot make Opening Day. So, where is it? Who is right? (SBF)

“We are going to make it. Everybody is aligned to get there. Everyone has the same goal—obviously. And, we are going to get there. If you look at that (Press Box) Camera, there is nothing that scares me. The field is going in; when we said it was going in—which is the first part of November. We got 1820 seats in this week. We have said if we can get 1800 consistently per week—that would be no problem. No, we are in good shape.” (Nearly 20,000 seats are currently completed)

Does anything scare you when it comes to completing the project? (SBF)

“Yeah, like how many millions of dollars we still have to put into place. Its going to average out to over $1.2 Million Dollars of work needs to go into place each day, on site, to the end. And, that’s just a lot of people. We are hovering around 800 workers per day. I see that number getting closer to 1000 workers per day. Making sure everyone is heading into the same direction—with the same priorities—yeah—that scares me.”

And, yet with that $1.2 Million Dollars spent per day—you can’t go over budget one penny? (SBF—chuckling)

(Laughing) “Yes, because if we do, we are going to go under budget the very next day (everyone chuckling).

“But, seriously, the daily skirmishes and emergencies that arise—we must be able to put out those fires every day. Because, there will come a day in late February or Early March where everyone is dependent on everyone else to do their job.”

So, one trade is dependent on the other trades to be in sync? (SBF)

“Yes, you are exactly right. And, the good thing out here is that every trade is working well together. Having been on several projects in the past—there has always been a few problem subcontractors, but on this site we don’t have that issue. A lot of that success has to do with our site supervisor (Ronnie Strompf—VP Clark Construction) who meets with all the subcontractors every single morning.”

Are you aware and does the possibility of The Washington Nationals moving up Opening Day to March 30—for a special Sunday Night Major League Baseball Opener—conflict with your construction schedule? (SBF)

“Any day lost is of concern to me. So, yes. We overcame a two-month start delay due to the late acquisition of the land, and squeezing any more days out of our schedule will be a struggle."

Is it conceivable that some of the retail space (on Potomac Ave SE—where this interview was conducted) which might be leased space at the new ballpark—might not be ready come Opening Day? (SBF)

“That’s a very safe bet that this retail space will not be open. I expect to probably be sitting right here as the first pitch is thrown (all of us chuckling). Now, I don’t have any real knowledge of the rentals on these spaces—but what I am told—there are not imminent buyers for these spaces, or someone to lease this space. But, that’s more a question for the (DC) Sports and Entertainment Commission.”

Centerplate—which is the new concessionaire, as well as team store and memorabilia sellers—they will most likely not be operating anything out of these retail spaces (on Potomac Avenue, SE)? (SBF)

“Not out of this space.”

Speaking of Centerplate—do you have to deal with them at all right now? (SBF)

“We have had a few coordination meetings. They were brought on pretty late in the game—really late in this process. Normally, Centerplate, Aramark or whoever is the concessionaire is—is brought in much earlier and have a lot more say into the concession design. Here, the design was complete and we have already laid out how the concessions will be. They (Centerplate) will have to adapt to that. And, that’s just a case of The Nationals not getting a deal with them until much later."

They are actually well known for coming in and redesigning stuff after the fact. (SBF)

“After the fact is OK!!’ (Everyone busting out laughing). “After the fact is OK!! But, you talked about things that we could not overcome. At this point, we cannot overcome changes to this project (when it comes to Centerplate, the Nationals or anyone elses needs), little or big. We have a design that is complete. And, for this stadium to open—we have to focus on the base contract work we have, and not get distracted.”

“Now, you could say—‘How could changing the concessions affect the opening of this park?’ But, any little thing—a change in equipment, and that equipment doesn’t arrive on time—and the Department of Health doesn’t get in and give us our occupancy permit for that concession—Centerplate is then delayed in offering that service. That’s why we have our designs done; the city (DC) and The Nationals have had opportunities to review our designs. They (The Nationals) made some changes and we accommodated them early. But, we have reached a point where we need to just focus on getting done the basic approved design.”

At one time, The Nationals said they were going to put “X” Number of dollars into upgrades at the park. Is everything they originally wanted to do—taking place? (SBF)

“Yes, everything The Nationals have wanted to do—we’ve accommodated. There has not been anything they wanted—that cannot be done. Now, there might be future things and now it’s too late. They enhanced the scoreboard (HDTV). They added the bathrooms to the suites. They upgraded the slider systems (Glass) in the suite fronts. They made some changes to the Office Building (attached) with the building layout. And, they enlarged the Centerfield Restaurant—as well. That’s all stuff we accommodated and is in the current designs.”

And, that is all costs, which The Team is paying for, correct? (SBF)

“Yes, all those things I mentioned—The Nationals are paying for. Those are called ‘Team Directed Changes’. The Nationals give a change to the city (DC). And, that's the only way The DC Sports and Entertainment Commission can increase our contract ($611 Million Dollars)--is if they have these ‘Team Directed Changes’--where there is a funding source.”

Just to be sure. You are building this stadium as per the original deal. And, anything The Nationals want to add on now. Or, Centerplate wants to add on now. Must, be done—after this current stadium design is completed? (SBF)

“Unless it’s a cosmetic like change. If they want say pink (laughing) instead of red color. Yes, that’s right. Obviously—we are going to try to be as accommodating as we possibly can. But, their goal is our goal, and I know they would support us if something can’t be done that is going to jeopardize the project opening.”

“Certainly it would be something that could be done after the season started, during an away series or during the All Star Break, or the next year—that would be the smart thing to do.”

Tomorrow--in Part Two--a more detailed look at the little things. Cheery Trees, Statues, Artwork--fan oriented items that many are looking forward to seeing, among other interesting ideas and comments.


Anonymous said...

Thanks SBF. Am I reading this right in him saying that the team store at the stadium might not be ready on opening day? Or am I misinterpreting what he was saying about the retail?

An Briosca Mor said...

I believe there are supposed to be something like three team stores in the new park, aren't there? So even if the one in the retail strip an the street isn't ready by Opening Day, that doesn't mean the ones inside the stadium won't be up and running. Believe me, the Nats will figure out a way to sell merchandise on Opening Day, even if it means having to set up a trailer or tent outside the stadium!

Screech's Best Friend said...

My understanding is that the Team Stores INSIDE The Stadium will definitely be available for Opening Day. But, the one planned in that retail space along Potomac Avenue might not be open right away. It shouldn't really be a big deal. There will be plenty of places to buy souvenirs. You can count on that.